College Football/Where Are They Now?

Former prep stars take Mercer into new conference

by Doug Gorman

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Sophomore running back Payton Usher was named to this year's College Football Performance Awards Watch List for the NCA A Football Champions Subdivision.

There's not a lot of rich football history at Mercer University, but there's plenty of enthusiasm as the private school in Macon goes into its second year of competition.

Mercer jumped started its program last season after a 72-year hiatus and shocked many with a 10-2 record.

It's going to get even more exciting this year as Mercer writes chapter two in its football story as it joins the Southern Conference - arguably one of the best FCS (formerly Division I-AA) leagues in the country.

It comes after Georgia Southern and Appalachian State jumped to the Sun Belt Conference this season but not before leaving a lasting mark on the Southern Conference.

Georgia Southern won an FCS record six national titles while Appalachian State claimed three consecutive championships.

Three local players are along for the ride at Mercer including Newnan graduate Lendell Arnold and Northgate alums Payton Usher and Alex Lakes. A feature story on the trio will appear in this year's Newnan Times-Herald Football '14 Edition, which will be published on Aug. 20.

'It's really exciting to see what is happening here with football,' Arnold said. 'I think the student body is really excited about football and I think the community is too.'

Usher and Lakes have been reunited and are expected to both play in the backfield for the Bears, just like they both did in high school.'

The two were a dominating force out of Northgate's Wing-T offense, each rushing for 1,000 yards and sharing Newnan Times Herald Offensive Player of the year honors.

'It's going to be good reuniting with him,' said Usher. 'We are different type of running backs, but we kind of feed off of each other.'

Usher jump-started his college career by starting nine games and rushing for 776 yards on 114 careers with two TDs.

Lakes redshirted last season after making initial college stops at the Air Force Academy and West Georgia.

'It was tough sitting around not getting to play at all last year,' Lakes said. 'It is going to be good to get the chance to finally play again. It has been awhile.'

Mercer begins its first year in the Southern Conference eligible for the league title, and among the conference home games are home contest against long-time FCS powerhouse Furman on Sept 6 and Nov. 1 against The Citadel.

'We go into every game thinking we are going to win it,' Usher said. 'That the way it is this year. We are ready to get back at it.'

JOHNSON'S CAREER CUT SHORT: Former Northgate standout De'Andre 'Moose' Johnson is not expected back on the field for the Georgia Bulldogs because of medical reasons.

Johnson did not go through spring practice with the Bulldogs and is not on the roster posted on the official Georgia athletic website for the 2014 season.

The defensive lineman red-shirted last season and still had four years of eligibility remaining before it was determined he was unable to continue his college career because of back injuries.

Johnson entered Georgia as a three-star recruit out of Northgate after earning several high school honors.

According to several websites, including Dawgrun.com, he is expected to stay on scholarship at Georgia as a medical hardship disqualification, which won't count against the Bulldogs' 85-player scholarship limit.

Johnson entered college as the No. 52-ranked defensive lineman in the country by Fox Sports and the No. 31-ranked defensive lineman by 247Sports.

He was also named to the Second-Team All-State Class AAAAA squad by the Georgia Sports Writers Association as a senior.

He helped lead Northgate to two playoff appearances during his career, including his junior year when the Vikings went 11-1 in 2011 and won a region title. Northgate also went to the postseason the following year when Johnson was a senior with a 5-6 record.

FACYSON TO FACTOR AGAIN IN HOKIES DEFENSE IN RETURN TO FULL HEALTH: Following a stellar freshman debut at Virginia Tech, Brandon Facyson continued to gain national attention from preseason publications after being named a Third-Team All ACC selection in 2013. The 6-2, 191-pound sophomore expects to team with fellow cornerback Kendall Fuller as one of the top tandems in the ACC this fall.

The duo filled in for a pair of seniors last season while combining for 11 interceptions. Facyson played in all 12 games last year, including nine starts, while finishing with 27 tackles, five interceptions and eight pass break-ups.

Facyson sat out spring practice with a stress reaction in his left leg and had a bone-graft procedure to aid the healing process.

(The Newnan Times-Herald will again compile a list of local players in college programs in its Football '14 Edition to be published Aug. 20. If you wish to add an athlete to our list, please e-mail the information to sports editor Chris Goltermann at sports@newnan.com )



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